When Pregnancy Affects Hearing: Exploring Tinnitus Symptoms

pregnant woman

Pregnancy is a time of great joy for many women, but it can also bring about various physical and emotional changes. One such change is tinnitus – a condition characterized by ringing or buzzing in the ears. During pregnancy, hormonal changes can increase blood flow to the ear and may trigger tinnitus symptoms. It’s not yet known whether pregnancy itself causes tinnitus or if it serves as a trigger for an underlying medical condition. However, pregnant women should discuss any new or increased symptoms they experience with their doctors to help rule out any serious health concerns. With proper care, most women find relief from tinnitus during pregnancy without long-term effects.

Dr. Michelle talks about tinnitus during pregnancy.

Is The Ringing In Your Ears Related To Your Pregnancy?

Tinnitus, the sensation of ringing in one or both ears without an external source, may arise or worsen during pregnancy. According to Tinnitus UK, two-thirds of pregnant women experience tinnitus while only one out of ten non-pregnant women within the same age group do – and those who already had tinnitus before getting pregnant typically see it grow more intense throughout their second trimester. A study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that women who experienced tinnitus during pregnancy often continued to experience it for up to four months after giving birth.

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Though the exact cause of tinnitus during pregnancy is unclear, there are several factors that may contribute to its onset or worsening. These include hormonal changes, an increase in blood flow to the ear, and stress. Pregnant women should discuss any new or increased symptoms they experience with their doctors to help rule out any serious health concerns.

Is Tinnitus During Pregnancy Common?

pregnant woman

Yes, tinnitus is one of the most common otological or ear related issues reported by pregnant women. It is more common to experience tinnitus during pregnancy as noted by several studies. One in ten women who are not pregnant reported tinnitus, compared to two in three pregnant women who reported tinnitus. Many women who are pregnant will also report feelings of ear fullness, hearing problems, or vestibular issues.

What Does Tinnitus Sound Like?

There are many different sounds that can be heard. Those who develop tinnitus may report hearing ringing, buzzing, clicking, or hissing. The sound may be low or high pitched and vary in volume, but some people even report hearing other more complex sounds such as music or static.

However, the most common form of tinnitus heard during pregnancy is pulsatile tinnitus, which sounds like a whooshing sound.

Causes Of Tinnitus And Hearing Loss During Pregnancy

For pregnant women, the reasons behind their tinnitus symptoms comes from normal hormonal changes and vascular or circulatory changes. Underlying medication conditions can also contribute to tinnitus during pregnancy. Pre-pregnancy issues like high blood pressure or migraines increases the risk for tinnitus. Poor sleep can also impact tinnitus during pregnancy.

Cardiovascular issues, like high blood pressure, can affect the blood flow in the inner ear. Blood circulation, particularly in the inner ear, is vital to preserving the delicate structures necessary for one’s hearing. When blood flow or vessels are compromised – especially among pregnant women – there is a heightened chance of experiencing tinnitus symptoms. Usually, individuals will experience whooshing from elevated blood pressure, which tends to match their pulse or heart rate. Some may even develop hearing loss from the vascular changes within the inner ears.

Hormone levels can also influence tinnitus. Progesterone is an indispensable hormone for a successful pregnancy, as it helps regulate estrogen levels. Recent research has revealed that the inner ear’s function can be influenced by progesterone and estrogen, eventually leading to tinnitus – something observed not only in pregnant women but also in those who are not expecting.

Pregnancy can cause swelling throughout the body, including the inner ears. The extra retention of salt and water can lead to tinnitus and hearing loss. However, these symptoms should resolve postpartum.

Pregnant women are also at an increased risk for iron deficiency anemia, which has been tied to symptoms of tinnitus and hearing loss. It is important for pregnant women to make sure there is sufficient iron in their diet, which can be accomplished through a prenatal vitamin or iron-rich foods, like spinach, red meat, or even dark chocolate. This will not only reduce your risk of developing this deficiency but also the chance of getting tinnitus or hearing loss due to it.

Tinnitus and hearing loss can occur in both pregnant and non-pregnant individuals as a result of earwax blockage or an ear infection. People may even experience muffled hearing or clogged ears at the same time. However, recurrent migraines can not only trigger tinnitus but also make sound more sensitive while causing emotional instability.

What Does Pulsatile Tinnitus Mean During Pregnancy?

pregnant woman getting a checkup

During pregnancy, pulsatile tinnitus ranks among the most frequent forms of tinnitus. It makes a sound similar to blood circulating through your head or ears- which could be likened to thumping, whooshing, or even your own heartbeat! During gestation, a pregnant woman experiences an expanded blood volume and elevated levels of hypertension. If one notices the presence of pulsatile tinnitus, it may be indicative of gestational hypertension – potentially signifying preeclampsia or HELLP syndrome; which are both very serious disorders with regards to pregnancy-related blood pressure issues. Women with preeclampsia have high blood pressure and high levels of protein in their urine. It is very dangerous for both the mother and their unborn baby and usually is detected after 20 weeks of pregnancy. HELLP Syndrome is a hazardous variation of preeclampsia which may occur later in pregnancy or postpartum. It can be fatal to the mother, and its effects on the baby will depend upon their gestational age, weight and any other birth complications that might arise.

What Should I Do If I Have Tinnitus During Pregnancy?

Make sure to bring it up to your medical team. Tinnitus during pregnancy is often the symptom of an underlying condition or the result of normal hormonal and physical changes. Your doctor will make sure that tinnitus isn’t the result of low iron levels or high blood pressure. If there are no concerns for either of those issues, they may check to see if you have an earwax blockage or ear infections that can be making you experience tinnitus and hearing loss.

If tinnitus is bothering you, you can consider the use of sound therapy. Using an ear-level masker, earphones, or a sound machine can help you feel less irritated by the tinnitus, as well as notice the tinnitus less. Depending on how tinnitus is impacting your quality of life, you may also consider tinnitus retraining therapy. Fortunately for most pregnant women, tinnitus will resolve or improve postpartum.

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Additional Works Cited:

  1. Boulware DR, Pullen MF, Bangdiwala AS, et al. A Randomized Trial of Hydroxychloroquine as Postexposure Prophylaxis for Covid-19. N Engl J Med. 2020 Oct 8;383(15):517-525. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa2016638. Epub 2020 Jun 3. PMID: 32492293; PMCID: PMC7286628.
  2. Khatri P, Singh S, Belani NK, et al. Convalescent plasma guidelines and their implementation in developed and developing countries during the COVID-19 pandemic. Plasma Ther Transfus. 2020 Dec;11(5):438-457. doi: 10.1007/s12288-020-01283-6. Epub 2020 Oct 20. PMID: 33311839; PMCID: PMC7569576.

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